Look, it's gonna be a long offseason.
It just is what it is. During the football season we generally (and often with good reason) complain about the things wrong with the Chiefs. We get mad, we yell (or use ALL CAPS if we're feeling especially irked), and we spend much of the season talking about how doomed the team is.
Then the season ends, and within a month we find ourselves wishing for even some preseason football. Or trade rumors. Heck, even some OTA news! We'll even take draft rumors! Anything at all!
The genius of the NFL (unintentional genius, but genius nonetheless) is the product is, by nature, scarce. Games last for three hours and only happen 16 times a year (a few more if you're one of the lucky fans. I hate everything, by the way). All the hype, all the speculation, all the film study, all the everything, revolves around what's essentially a half hour or so of actual game action (if that).
What's the old expression? "Absence makes the heart grow fonder?" That is absolutely the case with football. It's BECAUSE it's so scarce we get all fired up about the draft (no other sport comes even close to matching the hype, even the NBA, where one player can actually turn a team around completely), or OTAs, or training camp, or free agent signings. We love our speculation.
And now, speculation is all we've got until next season. Crap, I hate missing the playoffs.
This offseason, there will be many film studies. There will be many mailbags. There will be lists, power rankings, and all kinds of neat (well, maybe "neat" would be a better way to say that) stuff going on as we desperately try to fill the void created when actual football stops. Right now, I'm not even ready to reflect on 2014. That'll come later. Right now, I feel like creating a blueprint for success in 2015.
Is there any chance whatsoever I can accurately predict what will happen? Of course not! Will that prevent me from presenting a rough plan? Of course not!
First and foremost, I have to tell you: I think the Chiefs are close. Like, really close. As in, closer than this time last year. Yes, the Chiefs made the playoffs last season. I get it. And no, this isn't going to turn into a reflection of 2014 (again, that will come later). But the Chiefs played a significantly more difficult schedule this season and still competed for the playoffs. Last year, good teams beat the Chiefs consistently. That wasn't the case this season. A step forward was taken this year.
But again, we're getting into 2014 reflections rather than a plan for 2015. And today is all about the future, man!
I now present to you a foolproof (or something) plan for the offseason that would, in this guy's opinion, land the Chiefs in contention. No, it does not include an actual mock draft. It will never include an actual mock draft outside of "I really like Player X." I don't do mock drafts. If you're into it, and that's your thing, you can find it. But I don't do mock drafts.
This plan assumes that everything falls in place the way I want it to, but I do strive for some sense of realism (ish).
Phase One of MNchiefsfan's flawless offseason is to get some money available. Because money is important. You need it to, like, buy things and stuff. The work I will do here is courtesy of the wonderful site Over The Cap, which is just about as much fun as you can have without being arrested. Nick Jacobs also had a piece on creating more cap space. There are plenty of ways to go about this if the Chiefs want to.
Clearing Some Space
First, Dwayne Bowe's contract. It cannot stay as it currently sits. I like Bowe,and I think Andy Reid does too. He's a team player, willing to block, and a good receiver. He is not, however, an elite receiver. And because of his suspension, the Chiefs can cut him and save a ton of money.
However, I don't want to cut him. I want to keep him, just at a reduced price. Bowe is a good player at a position the Chiefs are desperately poor in talent. So what can we make happen here?
Some believe that Bowe will want to just be cut and take his chances on free agency. I disagree. It would be a gigantic risk for Bowe to hit the open market. He's a 30-year-old wide receiver coming off a 60 catch, 754 yard, zero touchdown season. Yes, the offense isn't one built for receivers to put up big numbers, but let's not act as though Bowe is going to be a top priority guy to other teams.
For a comparison, look at James Jones last year. He was coming of a remarkably similar season statistically and received roughly jack and squat for free agent offers. He's almost exactly the same age Bowe is. I mean, you can say it's a LITTLE different considering the different offenses, but do we really think Bowe is going to get offered triple or quadruple what Jones was offered (3 years, $10 million total)? I don't.
There are multiple WRs coming available in free agency that are more appealing than Bowe in age and production. For an example, look at Eddie Royal (a name most people here would say isn't in Bowe's league). He had the same (actually, slightly better) production as Bowe, but is a couple years younger. that's just one example. The point is, a deal with Bowe SHOULD get done and COULD get done.
This is a rough draft, so we're not going to do exact numbers here. But let's say they figure something out with Bowe that is around $7 million a year and a $6 million cap hit in 2015. We've saved $8 million dollars already and now have (per Over The Cap's numbers) $7 million in space! (Again, numbers are approximate here. Cut me some slack).
Next is Tamba Hali. I love Hali. I really do. But let's be real; he is no longer the heart of the Chiefs pass rush. He's a complementary piece now. Per PFF, in 478 pass rushing snaps Hali had six sacks, seven hits, and 31 hurries. Those are not dominant numbers by any stretch of the imagination. Nor are they irreplaceable. While I'm nervous about Dee Ford as a run defender, I'm confident he can replace that level of production for the most part.
The real kicker with Tamba is that cutting him saves the Chiefs $9 million. Once that comes into play, the choice becomes a lot easier. I hate the business side of things sometimes. But now we're at $16 million in space.
Now we move on to the "smaller" chunks of change.
Cutting Mike DeVito saves $4 million. Jaye Howard showed a ton of improvement last year, and Vance Walker played well when given a shot. With Allen Bailey having blossomed into a solid defensive lineman, there's no need for DeVito at his current price. Now we're at $20 million.
Donnie Avery is no longer a necessity. I don't know what Albert Wilson's ceiling is, but he's already a player who can stretch the field and is superior to Avery after the catch AND as a blocker. $3.5 million saved, bringing us to 23.5 million.
Anthony Fasano is a player I like. But he's no longer starting and was a non-factor down the stretch. Demetrius Harris can block and be a second tight end. 2 million dollars saved, bringing us to 25.5 million.
People are currently quite fond of Chase Daniel, and I get it. He's a competent backup. That said, he's too expensive for what he's being asked to do. I'm not on the "Aaron Murray is the future" bus, but I believe he can be an adequate backup with a year in the system. $3.8 million saved, bringing us to $29.3 million.
A.J. Jenkins is gone. I'm not even going to explain this one. $1.3 million saved, and now we're at $30.6 million in cap space.
And Eric Berry ... man, I hate this. I really, really, really, really hate this. Berry is a very, very good football player. I've written about him a ton of times. He's also, by all accounts, a good person who deserves good things.
That said (ugh, I hate myself right now), this is a "business-only" article. And the fact is the Chiefs secondary played well without Eric Berry. The combination of Ron Parker, Husain Abdullah, and Kurt Coleman was very effective. And at the end of the day, we just don't know what's going to happen with Berry's health.
I hope something happens differently here, but if I'm making a strictly business decision, Berry gets cut. I'll hate it if it happens. But I'll understand it. This would save $5.5 million. An alternative is the non-football Illness list, in which the team could pay him a certain amount of his contract and it counts against the cap. Let's say they do that instead, because I feel yucky. Let's say they pay him half his salary and thereby save $4.2 million.
Well, we've made some tough choices. But now we're sitting at $34.6 million in cap space. Since we're feeling crazy, we'll fiddle with Alex Smith's contract just a little bit and restructure 2015 into more of a bonus than a base. That can be done with various numbers, but my numbers provided for saving $4.6 million off the cap in 2015 while not totally destroying Smith's cap hit in later years (I took $6 million of base and converted it to a bonus).
With those moves in mind, the Chiefs now sit at $39.2 millions in cap space. I'm sure I've hurt the heads of many people with my horrifyingly non-detailed moves. But it is what it is.
The bottom line is that although the Chiefs aren't swimming in money currently, there's plenty of room to play around if some tough decisions are made.
Filling Some Gaps
This is the part where things get vague, and I'm not going to spend a ton of time here (we're already sitting at 1,700 words. I mean ... c'mon, man).
We've cleared out some room to make a few moves in free agency. However, that room is pretty scant, so we must choose wisely where money is spent.
Fortunately, the Chiefs are in a position where they have a few highly specific weaknesses. Address those and we're in business.
First things first; our own guys. Franchise Justin Houston (that deal ain't getting done, folks. At least not this offseason), re-sign Rodney Hudson, re-sign Ron Parker, re-sign Kurt Coleman, re-sign Jason Avant, tender Demetrius Harris. Easy as falling off a log, no?
Now, with those re-signings in mind we've got room for a few free agent signings. You wanna know what I'd do in this horribly simplistic rough draft world? Easy.
Sign a couple of mid-tier offensive linemen to compete at guard and right tackle (they aren't moving Eric Fisher, guys). No, not vet minimum types. I mean guys who will cost $3-4 million a year but can actually, you know, compete and help form an average line at least.
Why not address this through the draft? Because o-line often take a year or two to come around. The Chiefs need help now. Instantly. Immediately.
You know where I'd splurge a little, though? What we've sweated and worked toward by clearing cap room? Wide receivers, man. I want some. In fact, I want to be greedy. I want multiple guys. If they're going to spend money somewhere, I'd prefer it to go here. I've spent an entire season watching all-22 film of WRs having CBs stuck to them like glue constantly. I want that to change. Like, now.
"But MN, just saying 'go out and sign some WRs' isn't a plan!"
No, it's not. It's a rough freaking draft, man. John Dorsey has tried to save money on WRs, and while I applaud that, it's time to open the purse strings a little. Randall Cobb or Jeremy Maclin. That's the goal. Make it happen. Let's get a receiving group that makes an impact. I'm almost certain I'll change my mind about the specific players more than once.
If the Chiefs address o-line and WR both in free agency, they're free to go with best player available in the draft. You know, if BPA means drafting a few more WRs and OL as well. There are 11 picks there, so there's some wiggle room. Maybe even spend one on an inside linebacker if you're feeling frisky.
There it is. The rough draft. If the Chiefs follow this plan to the letter (that will absolutely not happen. There's not even really a letter to follow, people), they have a chance to seriously compete for a Super Bowl next season.
Come at me, offseason planners. How does my plan suck? Bet you can't prove your plan is better! In fact, I can guarantee that to be the case. Anyway, it doesn't matter. My next 5 plans will be way better.
Welcome to the offseason, folks.